Throughout the past two years, caregivers have had the unique opportunity to experience what goes on behind their children’s classroom doors. Caretakers have had a front row seat to hybrid and virtual learning an often took on the role of teacher, tutor, or learning partner. Now more than ever, families have knowledge to share about their child’s math strengths and growth areas. The opportunity to capitalize on this knowledge in order to cater to your students’ learning styles is powerful and should not be ignored!
Math teachers are experts on content and instructional strategies, yet no teacher will ever have as much knowledge about a student as the student’s caregivers. A collaborative partnership between teachers and caregivers provides an opportunity to bring both parties’ expertise to the table in the interest of the student.
Knowing the importance of partnering with caregivers is just the first step. In the remainder of this article, find the essential understandings that provide the foundation for an effective partnership to support students’ math learning and download 6 helpful tips for working well with families during the school year.
First and foremost, teachers and parents must recognize each other as equal partners who each bring crucial knowledge to share with one another. While observing their children’s learning journey at home, parents will know what topics their child is confident in, has mastered, or needs extra support with. Teachers and parents are on the same team working towards the common goal of guiding a student through their academic, social, and emotional development!
Parents already have the knowledge that will be helpful in supporting their child in the school environment. We know as teachers that math is everywhere, so seeking out specific information about your students can help make what often feel like irrelevant “real world problems” authentic learning experiences. Caregivers know what the child’s interests are, what they need while they are trying to learn, and what makes their child “tick.” Your job as a teacher is to activate that knowledge and potential. School staff must prioritize ensuring parents feel trusted, honored, and respected. Parents’ self-efficacy, especially in regard to math which is often a context filled with anxiety in adults as well, is a critical ingredient for successful partnerships because they must feel that their contributions are welcomed and valued.
Third and finally, any way that a family is supporting their student is valuable. Revolutionize your approach to parental engagement by challenging yourself to think expansively about what is considered engagement. For some, engagement may solely be conducted in the home by helping with homework while others may like volunteering in the school for events. Just as instruction needs to be differentiated in the classroom, every parent teacher partnership must be specialized to each family’s context. Even changing the way families talk about math in the home can make a huge difference in a child’s willingness to persevere through problem solving. Changing a narrative from “I never could do math” to a narrative of “let’s learn math together” will support students success.
The challenges this year poses because of the learning conditions over the last two years are heightened by the fact that math content builds on itself each year. A student will not understand 6th grade math if they did not master 5th grade math concepts. Before students can learn their current grade level’s standards, the gaps in their knowledge from the past years must be filled. As you begin assessing student’s current understandings and planning how you will address your student’s needs, keep in mind these core ideas to approach partnerships with a fresh perspective, empathy, and an open mind.
The following six recommendations are equally important when building parent-teacher relationships for the benefit of students:
While there are always too few hours in the school day, the payoff for dedicating time to partnering with parents is worth the effort. Time spent learning about a child’s homelife and gaining insight into what helps them learn will enable you to be a better teacher. Continuing developmentally appropriate methods of engagement will provide the necessary supports that students need at home to persevere through problem solving which will be especially crucial at this unique moment in time.2) Start by building trust.
Just like with students, relationships blossom when the roots are grounded in trust and care. Initial conversations with parents should be complementary and information seeking. Begin building relationships by learning about the types of knowledge that exist in students’ home and considering how this knowledge can be used as context for math problems. Become familiar with their community so you can bring the familiar and unfamiliar aspects of the world into the math classroom. Start the year off on a good note with your students and their loved ones!
Initial conversations with parents should be complementary and information seeking... Become familiar with their community so you can bring the familiar and unfamiliar aspects of the world into the math classroom.
The saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” speaks to a common barrier that stands in the way of productive partnerships. Especially as students grow older, the educational experiences of a student vary significantly from that of their parents. It is easy for parents to become lost in the alphabet soup that is education. Sharing clear and concise information with parents about online resources, grades, the content in each unit of study, and events in the school community, both related and unrelated to math, will enable parents to ask questions and approach conversations with you.4) Open an ongoing conversation.
Frequent, consistent, and persistent communication is key. Make a goal for yourself for how frequently you will contact every family. Beyond these scheduled checkpoints, you can reach out to individuals as necessary. As you communicate routinely, reiterate that you are always available to listen to parents' concerns and ideas. Parents can initiate communications too--it is a two-way street! Let them know the appropriate channel to reach you.5) Encourage academic talk in the home.
Family engagement happens at home too! When sharing the math content that the class is studying, include what is expected of the child and how parents can help them build their understandings at home. For example, an elementary school teacher may encourage parents to read books with their children to diversify students’ math vocabulary. A 7th grade math teacher may encourage parents to ask questions about the content in their student’s homework. Just like in the classroom, the more that students are talking about and integrating their new knowledge into conversation, the better!
When sharing the math content that the class is studying, include what is expected of the child and how parents can help them build their understandings at home.
Even if you do not receive a response the first time, keep reaching out! Just as a teacher should never give up on a student, a teacher should also never give up on partnering with their family. Try methods including sending information home with students, making phone calls, emailing, using third party communication platforms such as Classtag© and Remind©, and conducting in person conferences. Going a step further, try calling at different times of the day and offering conferences before and after school.
To build on these six recommendations in an even more concrete way, use the Easy Steps to Build Relationships with your Math Students’ Families Tip Sheet to discover ways to go beyond traditional ways of facilitating parent-teacher relationships to build more meaningful and beneficial partnerships.
Research has proven the advantages of collaboration and partnerships for the development and academic achievement of students of all ages. As you go back to school in a year that will again inevitably be filled with uncertainty and challenges, extend a warm welcome to your students’ families at the beginning of the year to help you build a team to support your students. While maintaining a focus on the child’s learning journey and reminding yourself of the three essential understandings, use these recommendations and tips to try new approaches to building relationships with your students’ loved ones.